Tag Archives: novel writing

Pandering to the Masses – Thoughts from Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card, Ender's GameA while back I mentioned on this blog that I’m reading through Orson Scott Card’s book, “Characters and Viewpoint.” It’s a fantastic read. I’m taking my time with it and really trying to absorb all of the ideas. (If you’re a fiction writer, I highly recommend getting a hold of a copy.)

I was reading it today and he touched on a subject that I’ve debated with numerous writers before: Should we write popular fiction? Is there really merit in that? Worse still, is it okay to write “just to make money” and please people? If someone does, are they bad writers or bad for doing it?

Here’s a quote from Card’s book, chapter two:

“Our objective as storytellers and writers isn’t to make money – there are faster and easier ways of doing that. Our objective is to change people by putting our stories in their memory; to make the world better by bringing other people face-to-face with reality, or giving them a vision of hope, or whatever other form our truth telling might take. You want the widest possible audience to receive this message; when you use your best skills to open up your story to other readers, you aren’t “pandering to the masses,” you’re freely giving your best gifts. If your stories happen to reach a very wide audience then yes, money will come. But it isn’t the money that makes the work worth doing; too many of us make too little for that to be the motive that pulls us along.”

Well said, Mr. Card.



Telling Details: Some Examples

I’ve been thinking more about “telling details” this week and I thought that it might be helpful to post a few here for all of us to read. I’ve looked through various books on my shelf to find these. If you know of any other great examples off-hand please leave them in the comments section below.

Here’s the passage from chapter 2 of Facing the Hunchback of Notre Dame that got me thinking about this in the first place:

“And we’ll need you to dress fifteenth-century French. I have just the items,” said Augustus as he joined them, arranging his poplin suit just so. He rearranged his silverware to perfection, then picked up the fork.

This excerpt from chapter 1 of Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham is a great example of “the telling detail” at work. Maugham not only inserts telling details about the housekeeper, Miss Fellows, but the narrator references them for the reader. Here’s the conversation between the narrator and Miss Fellows about a phone call that he neither wants to take, nor return:

“Is that the writer?” she asked me.
“It is.”
She gave the telephone a friendly glance.
“Shall I get him?”
“No, thank you.”
“What shall I say if he rings again?”
“Ask him to leave a message.”
“Very good, sir.”
She pursed her lips. She took the empty siphon, swept the room with a look to see that it was tidy, and went out. Miss Fellows was a great novel reader. I was sure that she had read all of Roy’s books. Her disapproval of my casualness suggested that she had read them with admiration.

Here’s an excerpt from chapter 1 of Fahrenheit 451. It’s easy to see that Guy Montag is confident in his work as a fireman:

He hung up his black beetle-colored and shined it; he hung his flameproof jacket neatly; he showered luxuriously, and then, whistling, hands in pockets, walked across the upper floor of the fire station and fell down the hole. At the last moment, when disaster seemed positive, he pulled his hands from his pockets and broke his fall by grasping the golden pole. He slid to a squeaking halt, the heels one inch from the concrete floor downstairs.

Here’s an interesting example from chapter 1 of Goblin Quest by Jim C. Hines. In this scene a large mean goblin captain (Porak) is bullying and tricking a younger weaker goblin to join his patrol that night. Notice how the telling detail is use and then interpreted for the reader. I think this is similar to how Maugham explained Miss Fellows’ above:

“Glory, fighting, and bloodshed.” The goblins puffed up like rock lizards competing for a mate. Porak smiled, a warning sign if ever there was one. “We want you to come along on patrol.”

As I’ve worked on my manuscript for the goblin project this week I’ve been focusing on inserting telling details along the way. I’m not trying to overdo it, of course, but I am finding that my manuscript lacks in this area. My plan now is to go into every major dialogue sequence in my story and see where I can re-write a sentence or two and insert telling details if they are needed.

Happy writing.


The 3-Day Novel Contest 2008 – 2011

The International 3-Day Novel ContestThis weekend hundreds of writers around the world are participating in the International 3-Day Novel Contest, “the world’s most notorious literary marathon.” This year is the first year in four years that I’m not participating. I wrote about how much I loved the competition and why I’m not participating this year in yesterday’s post.

But what happens to the novels that get written during this competition? The winner gets published every year, but what about all the others? I assume some go on to see publication and many never see the light of day again. Here’s what happened to mine.


In 2008 I wrote a novel that is so bad I usually refer to it as “The Novel that Shall Not be Named” if I even speak of it at all. It was one of the first long stories I’d ever completed. I shared it with a local published novelist and got some good editorial feedback. I also shared it with some friends and family and got their feedback. I then re-drafted it in early 2009. It was still terrible. I didn’t know where it was going. I didn’t know who my characters were. Everything felt contrived and fake. I forget when exactly, but at some point in the late spring / early summer of 2009 my writers group had an all-weekend write-a-thon together and I had some sort of a nervous breakdown with this book (not a real nervous breakdown, but it felt that way). I was fed up with it. I was trying to add to my second draft and “create a real book” but I had no idea what my story really was. By the end of that writing weekend I shelved it and have only gone back to look at it once since then. When I did, it felt uncomfortable (like being around and ex) and I put it back in the filing cabinet pretty quickly. It’s going to stay there for a long time…


In 2009 I was not an official participant in the 3-Day Novel contest but still wrote my story within the contest time frame. During this year I wrote one of my favorite stories that I’ve ever written. It’s a superhero adventure story tentatively called, “Midtown.” It’s about a Batman-esque vigilante who dies and experiences a strange sequence of events in the afterlife that force him to wonder if he really was just, or just vengeful during his life. With this story I wanted to tell what I call a “Second Chance Story” like “A Christmas Carol” or “It’s a Wonderful Life.” “Midtown” has nothing to do with Christmas, but everything to do with a man (in this case, a vigilante hero) who gets to look at the world, past and present, in a unique way and re-consider his decisions. If I remember right, it’s about 16,000 words.

I sent this story out to Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine and Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine. It was rejected by both publications but in fairly complimentary ways. I shared this story with many friends and will likely keep trying  to get it published. At different times I’ve thought about self-publishing it as an eBook, but I don’t want to rush into that. I’m really proud of this story and would love to see it someday go through a professional editing and publication process. We’ll see what happens. If anyone knows about a publication out there that’s looking for superhero adventure stories, please let me know.


During the 2010 3-Day Novel contest I was again not an official contest participant but still wrote my project as if I was. During this weekend I wrote a series of science fiction short stories that, when read in sequence, told one larger story of a world in the not-too-distant future. I’ve not looked at them in some time, but I believe I wrote twelve short stories. I remember that I really liked three of them and that the other nine ranged from poor to terrible. During much of 2010 and 2011 I was not actively pursuing writing or publication, so these stories have just sat dormant in my filing cabinet. I plan to go back and find these, pull out the good ones, and see if I can get them published.


In 2011 I wrote the 3-Day Novel yet again as an unofficial participant, but still adhered to the contest rules (it’s just too much fun not to!) It was during this contest that I drafted “the goblin project“. (It has a better working title than that, but I don’t want to give it away online yet so this is what I call it on the blog.) I’m proud of this story and think that it has a real chance at becoming a book someday. I’ve got a clear sense of the story and the characters. I’ve shared my first draft with friends and family. I’m working on a second draft now (read a writing update here) and have set the end of October as a deadline for myself to have the second draft done. After that, onward and upward until it’s eventually on store shelves.


Thanks for bearing with me on this walk down memory lane. If you’ve ever wanted to write a novel but can never seem to find enough time to commit to starting a first draft, then I highly recommend participating in the International 3-Day Novel Contest. It’s a fantastic, tiring, fun, mind-mushing experience, and at the end of three days you’ve got a first draft done.

Totally worth it!


Why I Love the 3-Day Novel Contest (and Why I’ll do it again next year)

I love the 3-Day Novel contest.

In case you’ve not heard of it before, I’ll give you a brief history:

A few decades ago a group of Canadian writers dared each other to write an original novel over Labor Day weekend. Each writer had to start completely fresh on Saturday at 12am – no previous writing was allowed and be completely finished by midnight on Monday. That’s just three 24 hour periods to get the novel done. This initial competition among a few friends grew year after year until it eventually became an international contest that takes place annually over Labor Day weekend. The winner of the contest gets published by a Canadian publisher. There are other prizes for second, third, etc., but the real prize is that everyone who competes ends up with a finished draft of their new novel. You can read the official history and details at their website, www.3daynovel.com 

Josh Mosey, Bob Evenhouse, Matt Landrum

Josh, Bob, and Matt during the 2008 3-Day Novel contest.

Why I love the 3-Day Novel

The absolute #1 reason why I love this contest is simple: At the end of 3 days you have a full draft of a new story. BOOM. Just like that. The three days are gruelling, don’t get me wrong, but they are so worth it. The average 3-Day Novel entry is around 30,000 words (which is closer to a novella than a novel, but hey, who’s counting…). How long does it take you to write 30,000 words on a new project right now? It takes me months. I’ve got a job, I’m married, I’m a parent, I’m active in my church, I have family and friends nearby, etc. etc. etc. It’s very hard to get that much work done in a short amount of time. This contest however provides a format in which you are forced to race the clock and finish your work. It’s awesome. It’s tiring, exhausting really, but at the end of one 3-Day Novel weekend I typically have accomplished as much in 3 days as I would have in a full year of writing.

It’s the event that glued my writers group together. Okay, this might sound sappy, but I love my writers group. (Group hug.) There are four of us at our core with a few other friends that have drifted in and out over the years. We call ourselves The Weaklings and we love to write together. You can read my friend Josh’s post, “I am a Weakling,” for more details on the group. Bob and Matt make up the rest of the core group. Josh also recorded his 3-Day Novel memories here.

It was Matt’s idea five years ago to get us involved in this contest. We decided to not just join, however, but to write it together in one house. Think about that. A group of guys writing at a frantic pace for 3 days in 1 house. It was chaotic, it was smelly, it was camaraderie at it’s best. Our local newspaper actually wrote up a story about us. You can read that story here. (At that point our group had one extra member.) This contest weekend back into 2008, I think, is the event that really made our group stick together. Before the contest we met, almost weekly, to discuss our outlines, compare notes, create characters, plan for the food, and brainstorm ideas. The preparation alone forced us to think creatively about each other’s stories. By the time the contest started I knew every other story almost as well as I knew my own. Had we never participated in a 3-Day Novel contest  in 2008 I’m not sure we would’ve stuck it out this long together.

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